Tag Archive: Mari Yamaguchi


Japan seals off no-go zone around nuclear plant

A man wearing a protective suite walks in the yard in the deserted town of Futaba, inside the 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone, in Fukushima Prehttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110421/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Eric Talmadge, Associated Press 19 mins ago

FUTABA, Japan – Japan sealed off a wide area around a radiation-spewing nuclear power plant on Friday to prevent tens of thousands of residents from sneaking back to the homes they quickly evacuated, some with little more than a credit card and the clothes on their backs.

Fearing they might not see their homes again for months, evacuees raced into the deserted towns Thursday before the ban took effect to grab whatever belongings they could cram into their cars.

“This is our last chance, but we aren’t going to stay long. We are just getting what we need and getting out,” said Kiyoshi Kitajima, an X-ray technician, who dashed to his hospital in Futaba, a town next door to the plant, to collect equipment before the order took effect at midnight.

Nearly 80,000 people were hurriedly evacuated from a 12-mile (20-kilometer) zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on March 12, after an earthquake and a tsunami destroyed its power and cooling systems. The order had no teeth, however, and people began increasingly returning to check on the remains of their lives. Some had stayed all along.

With ongoing concerns about radiation exposure — as well as theft in the mainly deserted zone — government officials imposed the formal closure barring anyone from entering the area.

Under a special nuclear emergency law, people who enter the zone will now be subject to fines of up to 100,000 yen ($1,200) or possible detention for up to 30 days. Until now, defiance of the evacuation order was not punishable and the police manning the roadblocks had no authority to stop people from entering.

“We beg the understanding of residents. We really want residents not to enter the areas,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The order angered some residents who had fled nearly empty-handed when told to evacuate.

“I initially thought we would be able to return within a few days. So I brought nothing except a bank card,” said Kazuko Suzuki of Futaba.

“I really want to go back. I want to check if our house is still there,” said the 49-year-old woman, who fled with her teenage son and daughter. “My patience has run out. I just want to go home.”

With the deadline approaching for the area to be sealed off, evacuees ventured into the evacuation zone, some in white protective suits and others in face masks and rain gear they hoped would protect against radiation. Most raced through the zone with car windows closed, their vehicles stuffed with clothing and valuables.

While the levels of radioactivity in the evacuated area have been quite low, the government wants to keep people away out of concerns that long-term exposure can be dangerous.

As of Thursday night, about 40 people remained in the area, many of them dairy farmers who are refusing to leave their cattle, and elderly people who cannot move, the government said. Local officials were working to persuade them to leave, rather than punishing them, according to Kenji Kawasaki of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

About 3,400 cows, 31,000 pigs and 630,000 chickens were left in the zone, according to government figures, though most were assumed to have died by now.

The no-go order was not issued because of any particular change in plant conditions, which appear to have somewhat stabilized. Even under the best-case scenario, however, the plant’s operator says it will take six to nine months to bring its reactors safely into a cold shutdown.

Equipment damage and glitches, high radiation inside the facility and powerful aftershocks have frequently stymied the work. The latest strong aftershock Thursday registered 6.1 magnitude, but Kyodo News Agency reported no apparent damage.

In a visit to the region, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the government would do everything possible to speed up the timetable of shutting down the reactors. Kan also gave a pep talk to workers at a nuclear crisis management center in Fukushima.

Edano said in the next month or two, authorities would allow one person per household to return to the area by bus for a maximum of two hours to collect necessary belongings. Participants would have to go through radiation screening, he said.

Residents chafed at the limit of one person per household.

Details were still being worked out, but Edano said when the situation stabilizes, families will be allowed further visits.

No visits will be allowed in the two-mile (three-kilometer) area closest to the plant, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minami Soma, where about half the 71,000 residents lived in areas that are now off-limits, questioned the rationale for the way the evacuation zone was decided.

“It feels like some outsider who doesn’t know anything about our geography sat at a desk and drew these circles,” Sakurai said. “The zones have zero scientific basis. Radiation doesn’t travel in neat circles. Just putting up circles around the plant is unreasonable.”

Fukushima’s governor, who has been critical of the government’s performance, said he urged Kan to ensure the government properly handles the disaster and related compensation issues.

“I told the prime minister that I strongly hope that evacuees can return home as early as possible,” said the governor, Yuhei Sato.

Meanwhile, new police data showed that at least 65 percent of the 11,108 identified victims from the earthquake and tsunami were aged 60 or older and almost all of them had drowned. Another 1,899 victims were of unknown age.

Adding those still missing, the twin disasters killed an estimated 27,500 people. The police agency said nearly 93 percent of the victims had drowned. Others perished in fires, were crushed to death or died from other causes.

The northeastern coast hardest hit by the disasters had a high concentration of elderly residents.

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Associated Press writers Jacob Adelman, Shino Yuasa and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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Japan’s evacuees annoyed at compensation offer

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110415/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA and RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press Shino Yuasa And Ryan Nakashima, Associated Press 8 mins ago

TOKYO – The crisis at Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear plant forced Kazuko Suzuki to flee her home without packing, ended her job at a welfare office and cost her 18-year-old son an offer for work of his own.

The plant operator’s announcement Friday that it would pay $12,000 in initial compensation to each evacuated household struck her as far too little to repay her family for the economic turmoil it has already suffered.

“I’m not satisfied,” said the 49-year-old single mother from Futaba, who has lived for the past month with her two teenage sons at a shelter in a high school north of Tokyo. “I feel like this is just a way to take care of this quickly.”

Suzuki is among tens of thousands forced to leave their homes because of radiation leaking from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, unsure of when, if ever, they will be able to return. The complex’s cooling systems were disabled by the March 11 tsunami, which was spawned by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Some have traveled hundreds of miles (kilometers) to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s headquarters in the capital to press their demands for compensation. Pressed by the government as well, TEPCO announced it would begin distributing money April 28.

“We have decided to pay provisional compensation to provide a little help for the people (who were affected),” TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu told a news conference.

Roughly 48,000 households living within about 20 miles (30 kilometers) of the crippled plant would be eligible for the initial payments — 1 million yen (about $12,000) for families and 750,000 yen (about $9,000) for single adults, the government said. The government said more was expected to be paid later.

TEPCO expects to pay 50 billion yen (about $600 million) in the initial round of compensation. As costs mount for the utility, Shimizu said the company would consider cutting executive salaries as well as a number of its employees.

Suzuki said the evacuation has placed a serious financial burden on her family, forcing it to buy clothes, food and other basics.

“We’ve had to spend money on so many extra things, and we don’t know how long this could go on,” she said.

Akemi Osumi, a 48-year-old mother of three also from Futaba, said the money was a “small step” but that it didn’t fairly compensate larger families. Her family is living at the same shelter but also must rent an apartment for her eldest son to go to a vocational school.

“One million yen doesn’t go very far,” she said. “I’m not convinced at just 1 million yen per family. If it was dependent on the size of the family I’d understand, but it’s not.”

In the small fishing town of Namie, about six miles (10 kilometers) from the plant, store owner Masami Watanabe hurriedly inspected his shop while scores of police searched the evacuated area for bodies of those slain by the tsunami.

Watanabe, who received special permission from the government to return for a quick survey of his shop, was also critical of TEPCO’s offer.

“There is no way they can compensate us for what happened here. What they are offering isn’t enough. I have a mortgage to pay. And besides, it’s not all about money,” he said.

Watanabe rented an apartment in the northeastern city of Sendai after the evacuation, but wants to move back home.

“Who knows how long that will take,” he said, as he put a garbage can in front of his shop doorway to keep burglars out.

TEPCO is still struggling to stabilize the nuclear plant and restore cooling systems that failed after the tsunami wrecked emergency backup systems as well as much of the plant’s regular equipment.

Radiation leaks from the crisis have contaminated crops and left fishermen in the region unable to sell their catches, a huge blow to an area heavily dependent on fishing and farming.

The governor of Fukushima, Yuhei Sato, has vigorously criticized both TEPCO and the government for their handling of the disaster, demanding faster action.

“This is just a beginning. The accident has not ended. We will continue to ask the government and TEPCO to fully compensate evacuees,” he said.

Japan’s nuclear compensation law exempts the operator from liability when the accidents are “caused by a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character, or by an insurrection.” However, it would be politically untenable for TEPCO to cite the tsunami as a rationale for not paying damages, given the complex nature of the problems that have unfolded at the plant, and questions over its preparedness, among other issues.

It is unclear whether TEPCO is likely to face lawsuits going forward. Most Japanese prefer to avoid the cost and publicity of going to the courts for redress, and the country relies heavily on nonjudicial resolution of disputes.

With Tokyo still suffering a power crunch because of the loss of power generated by its stricken plants, TEPCO said it planned to install gas turbines at two thermal power plants to boost output.

TEPCO, the main power supplier to the Tokyo region, said the new turbines would raise its capacity to between 50 million and 52 million kilowatts, still well below the nearly 60 million kilowatts of power consumed during peak hot weather days last summer.

The company earlier said it would only be able to provide 46 million kilowatts of capacity.

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Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Mari Yamaguchi and Noriko Kitano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Japan shaken by quake after more evacuations urged

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110411/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By JAY ALABASTER and ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Eric Talmadge, Associated Press 57 mins ago

SENDAI, Japan – A strong new earthquake rattled Japan’s northeast Monday as the government urged more people living near a tsunami-crippled nuclear plant to leave, citing concerns about long-term health risks from radiation.

The magnitude 7.0 aftershock, which trapped some people in collapsed homes, came just hours after residents bowed their heads and wept in ceremonies to mark a month since a massive earthquake and tsunami killed up to 25,000 people and set off radiation leaks at the nuclear plant by knocking out its cooling systems.

“Even after a month, I still cry when I watch the news,” said Marina Seito, 19, a student at a junior college who recalled being in a basement restaurant in Sendai when the original 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit on March 11. Plates fell and parts of the ceiling crashed down around her.

Officials said Monday’s aftershock did not endanger operations at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, where power was cut but quickly restored. The epicenter was just inland and about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tokyo.

But a nuclear safety official said repeated strong aftershocks — another large quake hit last Thursday — were slowing work at the plant, and said that if one of them were to spawn a tsunami, the complex would be just as vulnerable as on March 11.

“At the moment, no tsunami resistance has been added to the plant. At the moment, there is nothing we can do about it,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

With the crisis dragging on, residents of five more communities, some of them more than 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant, were urged to evacuate within a month because of high levels of radiation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. People living in a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant already have been evacuated.

“This is not an emergency measure that people have to evacuate immediately,” he said. “We have decided this measure based on long-term health risks.”

Edano sounded a grave note, acknowledging that “the nuclear accident has not stabilized” and that “we cannot deny the possibility the situation could get worse.”

The latest quake spooked people yet again in a disaster-weary northeastern Japan. Customers in a large electronics store in Sendai screamed and ran outside and mothers grabbed their children.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

In Iwaki, a city close to the quake’s epicenter, three houses collapsed and up to seven people were believed trapped inside. Two were later rescued, city fire department spokesman Takumi Namoto said. Their condition, and the fate of the others, was not immediately known.

Japanese officials said the quake had a magnitude of 7.0, but the U.S. Geological Survey said it measured 6.6.

With workers still far from bringing the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant under control, the bodies of thousands of tsunami victims yet to be found and more than 150,000 people living in shelters, there was little time Monday for reflection on Japan’s worst disaster since World War II.

People in hard-hit towns gathered for ceremonies at 2:46 p.m., the exact moment of the massive quake a month earlier.

“My chest has been ripped open by the suffering and pain that this disaster has caused the people of our prefecture,” said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima, which saw its coastal areas devastated by the tsunami and is home to the damaged plant at the center of the nuclear crisis. “I have no words to express my sorrow.”

In a devastated coastal neighborhood in the city of Natori, three dozen firemen and soldiers removed their hats and helmets and joined hands atop a small hill that has become a memorial for the dead. Earlier, four monks in pointed hats rang a prayer bell there as they chanted for those killed.

The noisy clatter of construction equipment ceased briefly as crane operators stood outside their vehicles and bowed their heads.

In the industrial town of Kamaishi, Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso led a moment of commemoration as a loud siren rang through a high school gymnasium being used as a shelter. He bowed while people who have lived there since the tsunami kneeled on makeshift futons, bowed their heads and clasped their hands.

The school’s students will return to classes Tuesday even though 129 people are living in their gym. Some, like 16-year-old Keisuke Shirato, wore their baseball uniforms for Monday’s ceremony. Shirato’s family was not affected by the tsunami, but about half of his teammates lost their homes.

“A new school year starts tomorrow,” Shirato said. “Hopefully that will help give people hope and allow them to look toward a new start.”

The earthquake and tsunami flattened communities along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline, causing what the government estimates could be as much as $310 billion in damage. About 250,000 are without electricity, although some of them because of the latest two quakes Monday and last Thursday.

Adding to the misery is radiation spewing from the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. The 70,000 to 80,000 people who lived within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant must stay away from their homes indefinitely.

“We have no future plans. We can’t even start to think about it because we don’t know how long this will last or how long we will have to stay in these shelters,” said Atsushi Yanai, a 55-year-old construction worker. The tsunami spared his home, but he has to live in a shelter anyway because it is in the evacuation zone.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said its president, Masataka Shimizu, went to Fukushima prefecture Monday to relay his gratitude and apologies. Shimizu recently spent eight days in the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure, but has since returned to work.

Shimizu told reporters in Fukushima that people who live near the plant are “suffering physically and mentally due to the nuclear radiation leak accident,”

“We sincerely apologize for this,” he said.

At TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo, hundreds of employees bowed their heads for a moment of silence at 2:46.

Japan’s government marked the one-month period by putting an ad in newspapers in China, South Korea, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States — a letter from Prime Minister Naoto Kan thanking people for the outpouring of support that followed the tsunami. The Red Cross alone said it has collected $107 million (9.1 billion yen) from overseas.

Kan described the outpouring as “kizuna,” the bond of friendship.

“We deeply appreciate the kizuna our friends from around the world have shown and I want to thank every nation, entity, and you personally, from the bottom of my heart.”

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Talmadge reported from Fukushima. Associated Press Writers Tomoko Hosaka in Kamaishi and Shino Yuasa, Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110408/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake

By JAY ALABASTER and TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press 32 mins ago

SENDAI, Japan – Nearly a half-million homes suffered blackouts in Japan’s northeast Friday after a new earthquake killed three people and piled more misery on a region buried under the rubble of last month’s devastating tsunami.

The northeastern coast was still reeling from the destruction wrought by a jumbo 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, with tens of thousands of households without power or water. The 7.1-magnitude aftershock Thursday threw even more areas into disarray and sent communities that had made some gains back to square one.

Gasoline was scarce again, and long lines formed at stations. Stores that had only recently restocked their shelves sold out of basics Friday and were forced to ration purchases again.

Still, the latest quake did far less damage, generated no tsunami and largely spared the region’s nuclear plants. Some slightly radioactive water spilled at one plant, but the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi complex reported no new problems.

Matsuko Ito, who has been living in a shelter in the small northeastern city of Natori since the tsunami, said there’s no getting used to the terror of being awoken by shaking. She said she started screaming when the quake struck around 11:30 p.m.

“It’s enough,” the 64-year-old while smoking a cigarette outside. “Something has changed. The world feels strange now. Even the way the clouds move isn’t right.”

The latest tremor — the strongest since the day of the tsunami — cut power to more homes, though it was quickly restored to many. More than 450,000 households were still without electricity Friday evening, said Souta Nozu, a spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power Co., which serves northern Japan. That includes homes in prefectures in Japan’s northwest that had been spared in the first quake.

Six conventional plants in the area were knocked out, though three have since come back online and the others should be up again within hours, Nozu said. But with power lines throughout the area damaged, it was not clear whether normal operations would be restored, he said.

In Ichinoseki, lines formed outside a supermarket when it opened Friday morning. An employee with a flashlight escorted each customer around the store and jotted the price of each selected item in a pad.

Most businesses were closed in the city, 240 miles (390 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. One restaurant owner, Suzuki Koya, bought a small gas stove and made free meals in big boiling pot.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

“I saw the meat at the supermarket and I thought, ‘We should do a hot pot,'” the 47-year-old said. “It’s good to keep warm in times like these.”

Several nuclear power plants briefly switched to diesel generators but were reconnected to the grid by Friday afternoon. One plant north of Sendai briefly lost the ability to cool its spent fuel pools, but quickly got it back.

At a plant in Onagawa, some radioactive water splashed out of the pools but did not leave a containment building, Tohoku Electric said. Such splash-out is “not unusual, although it is preferable that it doesn’t happen,” according to Japanese nuclear safety agency official Tomoho Yamada.

“Closer inspection could find more problems,” said agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama, but no radiation was released into the environment at Onagawa.

The plant began leaking oil into the ocean in the first earthquake, and the flow escaped a containment boom in Thursday’s tremor but was contained again by Friday, coast guard spokesman Hideaki Takase said.

Thursday’s quake prompted a tsunami warning of its own, but it was later canceled. Three people were killed. A 79-year-old man died of shock and a woman in her 60s was killed when power was cut to her oxygen tank, national fire and disaster agency spokesman Junichi Sawada reported Friday. The third death was an 85-year-old man, according to a doctor at the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital. He declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

That pales in comparison to the original quake and tsunami, in which more than 25,000 people are believed to have died.

Many of those bodies have still not been found: A significant portion were likely washed out to sea and never will be, but some are buried in areas that have been largely off-limits to search teams.

As radiation spilling from the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has fallen in recent days, however, police have fanned out inside a no-go zone near the complex to dig for the dead.

On Friday, hundreds of police, many mobilized from Tokyo, used their hands or small shovels, pulling four bodies in an hour from one small area in the city of Minami Soma. The had found only five bodies the previous day.

The searchers, wearing white radiation gear and blue gloves, struggled to bring the remains across the rubble to vans and minibuses that would take them to the nearest morgue. Each body was carefully hosed off to rid it of radiation before being placed in the vehicles.

“The area is literally a mountain of debris. It is an extremely difficult task,” said an official with police in Fukushima prefecture who declined to be named because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The epicenter of Thursday’s temblor was in about the same location as the original 9.0-magnitude tremor, off the eastern coast and about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Sendai, an industrial city on the eastern coast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was strong enough to shake buildings for about a minute as far away as Tokyo, about 200 miles (330 kilometers) away.

At a Toyota dealership in Sendai, most of a two-story show window was shattered, and thick shards of glass were heaped in front of the building. Police directed cars through intersections throughout the city on Friday because traffic lights were out. Small electrical fires were reported.

At the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where nuclear workers have been toiling to plug radiation leaks and restore cooling systems ruined in the March 11 quake and tsunami, workers briefly retreated to a shelter and suffered no injuries. The plant operator said the tremor caused no new problems there.

Despite the new aftershock, automakers announced Friday that they were beginning to bounce back from the March monster. Toyota will resume car production at all its plants in Japan at half capacity from April 18 to 27.

The world’s No. 1 automaker said it remained unclear when it would return to full production in Japan.

Nissan also said it would start up domestic production at half capacity from April 11.

Operations had been halted at both companies because of part shortages.

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Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa, Malcolm Foster, Ryan Nakashima, Mari Yamaguchi and Cara Rubinsky in Tokyo, Eric Talmadge in Minami Soma, and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110407/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By ERIC TALMADGE and SHINO YUASA, Associated Press Eric Talmadge And Shino Yuasa, Associated Press 2 hrs 9 mins ago

MINAMI SOMA, Japan – Japanese police raced Thursday to find thousands of missing bodies before they completely decompose along a stretch of tsunami-pummeled coast that has been largely off-limits because of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant.

Nearly a month after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake generated the tsunami along Japan’s northeastern coast, more than 15,000 people are still missing. Many of those may have been washed out to sea and will never be found.

In the days just after the March 11 disaster, searchers gingerly picked through mountains of tangled debris, hoping to find survivors. Heavier machinery has since been called in, but unpredictable tides of radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex have slowed progress and often forced authorities to abandon the search, especially within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the plant.

Officials now say there’s not much time left to find and identify the dead, and are ramping up those efforts.

“We have to find bodies now as they are decomposing,” said Ryoichi Tsunoda, a police spokesman in Fukushima prefecture, where the plant is located. “This is a race against time and against the threat of nuclear radiation.”

More than 25,000 people are believed to have been killed, and 12,600 are confirmed dead. There is expected to be some overlap in the dead and missing tolls because not all the bodies have been identified.

Recent progress at the plant — which the tsunami flooded — appears to have slowed the release of radiation into the ocean. Early Wednesday, technicians there plugged a crack that had been gushing contaminated water into the Pacific. Radiation levels in waters off the coast have fallen dramatically since then, though contaminated water continues to pool throughout the complex, often thwarting work there. A floating island storage facility — which officials hope will hold the radioactive water — arrived at the port near Tokyo on Thursday and will soon head to Fukushima.

After notching a rare victory, technicians began pumping nitrogen into the chamber of reactor Thursday to reduce the risk of a hydrogen explosion.

Three hydrogen blasts rocked the complex in the days immediately following the tsunami, which knocked out vital cooling systems. An internal report from March 26 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned such explosions could occur again and recommended adding nitrogen. The gas will be injected into all three of the troubled reactors over the next six days.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been under intense pressure to get the crisis under control, and the company’s president was hospitalized last week amid reports he’d had a breakdown. Masataka Shimizu spent eight days in the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure, but was back at work Thursday, according to spokesman Takashi Kurita.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

Radiation in the air, soil and water in Fukushima prefecture has also been declining since Saturday, and Tsunoda said a small team resumed the search there a day later. But the operation dramatically increased on Thursday, when 330 police and 650 soldiers fanned out, wearing white protective gear from head to toe. They are concentrating on areas between six and 12 miles (10 and 20 kilometers) from the plant — all of which are within the zone evacuated because of radiation fears.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government is studying ways to allow residents in the evacuation zones to return briefly to check on their homes and retrieve any possession that may be left, but they would have to be escorted and wear protective gear.

“I understand that many residents have eagerly waiting for a chance to go back, but this is not something we can approve just to mark one month from the disaster,” Edano said. “If we provide an opportunity, we cannot allow anyone to go anytime.”

The government has said it may expand the evacuation zone due to concerns about longer-term radiation exposure as the crisis wears on.

Iitate village, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Fukushima Dai-ichi, said Thursday it is advising pregnant women and children under 3 to go to hotels farther from the plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency last month reported high levels of contamination in Iitate’s soil. Village officials did not say why they are just now telling some people to leave.

On the fringes of Minami Soma, a city that straddles the no-go zone and was flattened in the crush of water, teams patrolled deserted streets Thursday. Packs of dogs caked with mud and the searchers were the only beings roaming the emptied streets.

One area inside the evacuation area seemed frozen in time: Doors swung open, bicycles lined the streets, a lone taxi sat outside the local train station.

One body was pulled out of the rubble Thursday morning.

“We just got started here this morning, so we expect there will be many more,” said one officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

More than 1,000 people are missing in the city alone.

“I believe the search will continue until they find as many of the missing as they can, but we fear many of the missing were washed out to sea or are buried under rubble,” said Takamitsu Hoshi, a city official. “We haven’t been able to do much searching at all because of the radiation concerns. It was simply too dangerous.”

Last weekend, U.S. and Japanese troops conducted a massive, all-out search of coastal waters, finding about 70 bodies over three days. While such operations haven’t stopped completely, they’ll be severely limited going forward. The death toll for the 2004 Asian tsunami includes tens of thousands of bodies that were never found, likely sucked out to sea.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department confirmed the death of Montgomery Dickson — the second American confirmed killed in the disaster. It gave no other details.

While some progress has been made at the nuclear complex in recent days, radiation spewed over the past few weeks continues to travel — in trace amounts — farther afield. On Thursday, one South Korean province allowed schools to cancel classes after rain containing small amounts of radiation fell in the area. The contamination posed no health threat, according to the prime minister’s office.

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Yuasa reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Matthew Daly in Washington also contributed.

More radioactive water spills at Japan nuke plant

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110328/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA, Associated Press Shino Yuasa, Associated Press 48 mins ago

TOKYO – Workers discovered new pools of radioactive water leaking from Japan’s crippled nuclear complex, officials said Monday, as emergency crews struggled to pump out hundreds of tons of contaminated water and bring the plant back under control.

Officials believe the contaminated water has sent radioactivity levels soaring at the coastal complex, and caused more radiation to seep into soil and seawater.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, was crippled March 11 when a tsunami spawned by a powerful earthquake slammed into Japan’s northeastern coast. The huge wave engulfed much of the complex, and destroyed the crucial power systems needed to cool the complex’s nuclear fuel rods.

Since then, three of the complex’s six units are believed to have partially melted down, and emergency crews have struggled with everything from malfunctioning pumps to dangerous spikes in radiation that have forced temporary evacuations.

Confusion at the plant has intensified fears that the nuclear crisis will last weeks, months or years amid alarms over radiation making its way into produce, raw milk and even tap water as far away as Tokyo.

The troubles at the Fukushima complex have eclipsed Pennsylvania’s 1979 crisis at Three Mile Island, when a partial meltdown raised fears of widespread radiation release, but is still well short of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which killed at least 31 people with radiation sickness, raised long-term cancer rates, and spewed radiation for hundreds of miles (kilometers).

While parts of the Japanese plant has been reconnected to the power grid, the contaminated water — which has now been found in numerous places around the complex, including the basements of several buildings — must be pumped out before electricity can be restored to the cooling system.

That has left officials struggling with two sometimes-contradictory efforts: pumping in water to keep the fuel rods cool and pumping out — and then safely storing — contaminated water.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, called that balance “very delicate work.”

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

He also said workers were still looking for safe ways to store the radioactive water.

“We are exploring all means,” he said.

The buildup of radioactive water first became a problem last week, when it splashed over the boots of two workers, burning them and prompting a temporary suspension of work.

Then on Monday, officials with Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns and runs the complex, said that workers had found more radioactive water in deep trenches used for pipes and electrical wiring outside three units.

The contaminated water has been emitting radiation exposures more than four times the amount that the government considers safe for workers.

The five workers in the area at the time were not hurt, said TEPCO spokesman Takashi Kurita.

Exactly where the water is coming from remains unclear, though many suspect it is cooling water that has leaked from one of the disabled reactors.

It could take weeks to pump out the radioactive water, said Gary Was, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

“Battling the contamination so workers can work there is going to be an ongoing problem,” he said.

Meanwhile, new readings showed ocean contamination had spread about a mile (1.6 kilometers) farther north of the nuclear site than before but is still within the 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the evacuation zone. Radioactive iodine-131 was discovered offshore at a level 1,150 times higher than normal, Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters.

Amid reports that people had been sneaking back into the mandatory evacuation zone around the nuclear complex, the chief government spokesman again urged residents to stay out. Yukio Edano said contaminants posed a “big” health risk in that area.

Gregory Jaczko, head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, arrived in Tokyo on Monday to meet with Japanese officials and discuss the situation, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

“The unprecedented challenge before us remains serious, and our best experts remain fully engaged to help Japan,” Jaczko was quoted as saying.

Early Monday, a strong earthquake shook the northeastern coast and prompted a brief tsunami alert. The quake was measured at magnitude 6.5, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. No damage or injuries were reported.

Scores of earthquakes have rattled the country over the past two weeks, adding to the sense of unease across Japan, where the final death toll is expected to top 18,000 people, with hundreds of thousands still homeless.

TEPCO officials said Sunday that radiation in leaking water in Unit 2 was 10 million times above normal — a report that sent employees fleeing. But the day ended with officials saying that figure had been miscalculated and the level was actually 100,000 times above normal, still very high but far better than the earlier results.

“This sort of mistake is not something that can be forgiven,” Edano said sternly Monday.

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Associated Press writers Tomoko A. Hosaka, Mayumi Saito, Mari Yamaguchi and Jeff Donn contributed to this report.

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